Japanese Internment Camps In USA History

Angela Davis once said, “Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of our social problems” (Angela). Although it is not specified which instance Davis is referring to, this quote can be applied to many memorable moments in America’s long history. One of the most obvious of these moments being the Japanese Internment camps of 1942. In mid-February of that year, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066. He signed this Order shortly after the Pearl Harbor bombings as a way to hopefully prevent the Japanese from retaining any possible American secrets that may have been discovered by Japanese spies (Japanese Internment). After this order was signed, the roundups began. The United States government had a goal to do their best to prevent treason within the borders of this country in the hopes to make the rest of this country feel safer after this unimaginable attack. But were their methods ethical? To protect the people of the country, the government started to incarcerate Japanese Americans whether or not they showed signs of being a traitor. See, in this time the race of a person determined if they would have to spend the next few years in an internment camp. In fact, less than 3% of those incarcerated may have been inclined to spy (Paul). What the United States did to so many people affected their emotional wellbeing, physical status, and the feeling of safety even many years prior to these camps.

The most obvious trauma for those taken into custody was the emotional toll. “About 120,000 people or ⅔ of the Japanese people that were taken to the camps were U.S. citizens” (Why). Imagine being a legal member of a country and being ripped away from your home after your neighbors were just bombed, the only connection you have with the attacker being your race? So many people “were incarcerated for up to 4 years, without due process of law or any factual basis” (Children). Those being blamed were essentially being stripped of their fifth amendment right for something completely unrelated to them. It is the government’s obligation to abide by this constitutional law unless acting upon probable cause, but where is the probable cause in this scenario? Is racial bias enough to criminally charge someone with no further evidence? Other than being dehumanized in the sense of having one’s rights taken away, those who suffered experienced anguish after being told they would be forced to relocate. Anyone who was suspected of spy activity was required to leave their homes, leave their jobs, and even leave their family on occasion (Children). According to sites.google.com, “When the Japanese left their homes, they could not take their washing machines or their refrigerators or anything they couldn’t carry by hand so they sold them.” The stress relative to all of this sudden change seems so inconceivable that is a marvel that so many people were able to survive without completely breaking down.

Aside from the emotional damage given from this awful experience, many in the camps endured physical harm as well. Numerous people even died in these camps. For example:

On August 4, 1942, a riot broke out in the Santa Anita facility, the result of anger about insufficient rations and overcrowding. At Manzanar, California, tensions resulted in the beating of a Japanese American Citizens League member by six masked men. Fearing a riot, police tear-gassed crowds, and one man was killed by police. (Japanese Internment)

Aside from this instance, many other people were killed. Some of those being an elderly man- shot for trying to escape, two men- shot for trying to escape, a man- shot for nearing the perimeter, and another couple- shot for nearing the perimeter. All of these mentioned were killed by the shots (Japanese Internment). Not only were those incarcerated exposed to violence, but they also faced medical disturbances due to stress. According to PBS, “Health studies have shown a 2 times greater incidence of heart disease and premature death among former internees, compared to non interned Japanese Americans.”

Despite being immensely stressful and dangerous, these Japanese Internment camps did provide a safe space for those who were being discriminated against due to the attacks. Although many of those who shared the same race as the bombers did nothing wrong, many Americans still held a hatred for them as if they were a part of the attack. In fact, many of those who were immured found themselves not wanting to leave:

Many of the Japanese-American evacuees frequently changed their minds on whether to repatriate to Japan. There are several reasons for this, including fear for their personal safety if released back into American society, or a change of heart after hearing reports of Japanese defeats in the Pacific theater. (Elleman)

Once one dives deeper into life inside of Japanese Internment camps, they will come to find that these internment camps were extremely comparable to small towns. These centers had schools, post offices, chances for work, and even farmland; all of these commodities were poor quality, but they were far better than being locked in a cell all day or being forced to do hard labor with no reward (Japanese Internment). Of course, to enjoy your life in these centers one would first have to relish in being surrounded by guard towers and barbed wire. Although the internment camps did protect the Japanese Americans from further harm outside of the camps, the bottom line is that it was still not their choice. They never consented to be placed in these centers. Sure, some citizens in the centers viewed them as a good way to protect against racists, but not every internee felt this way. This lifestyle should have been an option, yes. But for it to be required after still having no proof of guilt is irresponsible and a blatant violation of the rights given to us as American citizens.

As one can imagine, being imprisoned for years and being released back into society was not an easy transition. After being separated from their families for such a long time, some internees were unable to recognize their family members post-camp. Along with this, those who were forced to quit their jobs in their middle-age were unable to restart their careers, thus being forced to rely on their children to survive (Psychological). The Japanese Internment camps that were enforced as a way to protect Americans seemed to only cause emotional abuse, physical trauma, and distorted feelings of safety for those who were actually forced to live in them. The complete disregard of the civil liberties of a group of people due to their race was a disgusting abuse of power on the government’s end. The Japanese-Americans came to America in hopes of improving the lives of future generations. Instead, they were greeted with prejudice and imprisonment. Still, many make the argument that they were better off in the camps for their safety was at risk. To that, the question must be asked: Is imprisonment right for protection?   

16 December 2021
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